Facebook Twitter

From Charlotte, a vision for NYC’s second try at parent training

The parent training program that Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott promised to launch last night would be new to New York City. But it wasn’t supposed to be that way.

In 2009, over the objections of some members of the Assembly who said doing so would waste scarce resources, state legislators passed a bill to create a parent-training center in New York City. The bill was one of four amendments that Senate Democrats required before they would agree to renew Mayor Bloomberg’s control of the schools.

That center was supposed to cost $1.6 million, which the city and state would jointly supply. It would have been housed at CUNY. And it would have trained parents who normally wouldn’t get involved to serve on community education councils and school leadership teams.

But it never got off the ground. The Department of Education said at the time that it was unwilling to pony up its portion of the costs unless the state contributed, too. And the state’s funding never materialized.

This time around, the city won’t be relying on the state for its parent training center. Walcott did not name a price tag for the new initiative, which will start in 2012, but he said the city would pool public and private funds to pay for it. A DOE official said the public funds would not come from the same pot that would have helped fund the CUNY training center.

A similar initiative in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenberg school system, which DOE officials said is a likely model for the program that the city will put in place, has been funded entirely with private dollars from local and national foundations and companies.

Charlotte parents said the district’s Parent University, which offers open training courses at schools throughout the Charlotte-Mecklenberg school system, has brought more parents into the schools and equipped them with skills, knowledge and resources to help navigate their child’s education. More than forty course titles offered for Fall 2011 include “Homework Without the Headache” and “Creating a College Timeline.”

Paula Finn, a parent of a sixth grade Charlotte-Mecklenberg school system student, has attended over twenty courses since the program launched in 2008.

“Before, I didn’t have any idea about the school system,” Finn said. “The Parent University classes have helped me answer questions that I wouldn’t be comfortable asking people.” For example, she said she felt odd asking her son’s teachers and principal about the purpose of standardized testing and was thankful when that was addressed in a Parent University course.

Finn said that since Parent University courses are hosted at schools throughout the Charlotte-Mecklenberg school system – ranging from the affluent to the impoverished – there is a cross-section of parents being brought into conversation with each other.

Over the years she has attended courses on topics that are directly relevant to her son – like transitioning to sixth grade and gifted education. She has also attended workshops on topics like gangs, which don’t immediately pertain to her son, but which keep her in tune with broader concerns in education.

Madelyn Miller, a family advocate at Reid Park Academy, a low-income school in Charlotte, said she had been running workshops for parents even before Parent University launched. But she said the city’s effort had allowed her to advertise more widely and attract a larger audience. And she praised the city’s program for spreading courses across the district and bringing programs to parents upon request.

“They make it convenient. No excuses – that’s what we try to put out there,” Miller said. “Parents don’t have an excuse not to attend.”